Football competition completed the season’s proceedings over the past week at club level, with the Champions League final between Madrid sides Real and Atletico proving a fitting spectacle for the occasion, and Playoffs in England securing the final few teams competition at a higher level next season. Fantasy football managers were given a glimpse of which players may look forward to a continuously good 2014, while others perhaps betrayed some signs that they were not ready to move on as fast as their clubs. Continue reading
Lisbon, Portugal will be awash on Saturday evening with fans of two Spanish giants, Real Madrid and bitter city rivals and newly-crowned La Liga champions Atletico Madrid, as the two sides prepare to meet in the season’s grand finale – the Champions League final, and with some of the best players in the world taking to the field it’s sure to be a spectacle not to be missed. Fantasy football managers will have their eyes peeled for any of their players to see how they can contribute to the ultimate fate of this season’s tournament, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale taking to the field for the white half of the City we have two of Europe’s top points-scorers on the pitch. Continue reading
With the latest weekend of football action, there were loads of points available to our fantasy football managers as records were broken, two long waits for honours were ended and one milestone moved a step closer to fruition – plenty for the players to play for, in that case – and some really made the most of it.
For starters, it would be remiss not to mention the achievements of Antonio Conte’s Juventus this season. They won the Serie A title with a European record points overhaul of 102, and secured their 30th Italian title to boot – their third consecutively. For any fantasy managers who had the foresight to include captain Gianluigi Buffon, then that was a great shout. He has been Juventus’ best player points-wise this season, and his season total of 520 only leaves him 220 points behind the overall winner, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. Considering Buffon is a goalkeeper, that is a fantastic feat – he added a healthy 30 points to his overall tally by keeping a clean sheet against visitors Cagliari.
Moving on to the long waits mentioned previously, there were two – Arsenal finally ended their nine-year wait for some silverware by beating Hull in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday, and the sense of relief was tangible as the usually calm and quiet Arsene Wenger was lifted onto his player’s shoulders, smiling like a Cheshire Cat absolutely doused in champagne. Anyone with a certain Welshman by the name of Aaron Ramsey in their fantasy football team will have been over the moon to see him netting the Gunners’ winning goal in extra time and bagging himself the Man of the Match award to boot.
Moving over to Spain, Atletico Madrid prepared for their upcoming Champions League Final against city rivals Real by earning a draw at title foes Barcelona, securing themselves their first league championship in 18 years – much like Antonio Conte at Juventus, coach Diego Simeone has received widespread acclaim for his side’s footballing standards this season. The club’s top performer over the season in this fantasy football competition has been on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, with 550 points overall – however, the 22-year-old Belgian failed to add to that total as Barca managed to grab the lead through Alexis Sanchez, who added 20 points to his own total to finish off with a healthy 475.
Atletico’s title win gives them a real psychological boost ahead of that clash with Real in Lisbon, and the prospect of a league and European cup double is now tantalisingly close – though the 2-2 result the last time these two sides met offers little in the way of statistical aid. Real are by far the more experienced of the two clubs at this level, and will be looking to their top performer Cristiano Ronaldo – indeed, the second most prolific points-grabber in fantasy football with 695 – to turn up the heat as the club look to secure their 10th Champions League trophy and prevent Atletico from achieving their first ever double of this nature.
The 133rd FA Cup Final takes place this weekend, with two clubs desperate to get some long-awaited (by their own respective standards) silverware added to their trophy cabinets, and as a result many Fantasy Football managers will be keen to get as many of those players into their own lineups as possible – especially those who have enjoyed a nice, point-laden season for the fantasy bosses out there.
For the favourites, Arsenal are likely to name Wojciech Szczesny as the stopper, and the 24-year-old has indeed established himself as Arsene Wenger’s no.1 this season, with his 370 fantasy football points placing him only marginally behind the club’s top pointsman, Olivier Giroud. He also has the fourth best points to value rating of the entire squad, behind only Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny and Tomas Rosicky – at €8.50m, the Poland international surely represents great value.
Frenchman Giroud goes into the game only 10 points ahead of his side’s custodian, earning himself 10 points in the final league game of the season against relegated Norwich. His 16 goals from 36 starts surely make him one of the first names on Wenger’s Wembley teamsheet, especially with eight assists, tying him in second place alongside Ramsey and Santiago Cazorla, and behind only club record signing Mesut Özil.
Gunners defender Thomas Vermaelen spoke earlier this week about seeing the Hull game as a potential catalyst for the north Londoners to return to trophy-winning ways, but the Belgian has not had a great season by any standards – while his 45 points earned this season represent a marked improvement over last term, where he scored -15, fantasy football managers would surely be mad to move him into their squad at this stage. This omission from the first team owes largely to the fantastic partnership Koscielny has formed with Per Mertesacker in the Arsenal defence this season – Mertesacker’s 245 points thus far will have helped managers who picked him early on massively, and of course also helped the club qualify for Champions League football next season.
Moving the attention over to Hull now, the fantasy points totals are understandably much lower overall – after all, Hull scored the third fewest goals in the Premier League this term. On-load star Jake Livermore has been the Tigers’ best performer this season in fantasy football competition, and while his 170 points may pale in comparison to many of the competition’s top players his value of €2.50m give him a P/V ratio of 68 – better than any player in the entire Arsenal squad. His influence will be ignited by the fact the opponents are Arsenal – bitter rivals of his parent club, Tottenham.
Shane Long has had a great time since joining Hull in January, the Republic of Ireland international becoming a regular and popular figure in the striped shirt. He is second only to Livermore in Hull’s top points scorers as far as fantasy football is concerned, though he has failed to add to his 150 points in two games this month.
Allan McGregor’s debut season for the club looks set to climax in a Wembley start, though his 105 fantasy football points total leaves him sitting 70th among the goalkeepers in this season’s list.
Arsenal, on paper at least, look set to claim a win and send an echoing sigh of relief among their supporters, but one need only look as far back as last season when Wigan beat Man City in this fixture to know that surprises are still more than capable of being sprung. Overall, however, Arsenal have enjoyed the better season – the likes of Mertesacker and Giroud especially should be considerations for any fantasy team moving into the 2014-15 campaign.
With last weekend’s footballing action now firmly in the record books, titles were decided, European qualification spots were allocated and some teams unfortunately lost their places in their respective league by securing a position in the much feared relegation spots – and several players bagged themselves some nice point tallies in our Fantasy Football competition.
Arguably the most intense of the aforementioned scraps came in Italy’s Serie A, where a supposed relegation six-pointer between hosts Bologna and Catania ended up respectively irrelevant, owing to victories for the other two sides battling to avoid the drop, Sassuolo and Chievo.
Relegation run-ins can often hold a potential goldmine for Fantasy Football managers, and Sassuolo striker Antonio Floro Flores did himself some real good in his game, grabbing a brace resulting in his best individual weekly performance of the season. He bagged 40 points for himself – not bad considering the previous five weeks only saw him add 30 points to his total combined. Those vital three for his club also ensure they have survived their first ever season in Serie A – all in all a great outing for the former Italy U-21 international!
There was another particularly huge battle in Europe on Sunday afternoon, however, as Man City and Liverpool went into their respective fixtures knowing that their captain could be lifting the English Premier League trophy following the full-time whistle. Man City have won the trophy once, in 2012, while Liverpool are yet to lift the Premier League trophy since the competition’s inauguration in 1992. Ultimately, the Citizens were to come out on top, with midfielder Samir Nasri putting the champions-elect in front before half-time, earning himself 40 points throughout the game.
Liverpool were ultimately disappointed despite coming from behind to beat a plucky Newcastle side, and indeed their striker Luis Suarez – who had seemed destined to leave Anfield last summer – has been the most impressive performer in the world this season in relation to fantasy football points, ending the domestic season with a whopping 740 – a full 45 clear of his closest rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. However, Suarez failed to add to that tally during the Newcastle game – goalscorers Daniels Agger and Sturridge grabbed 20 points each from their exploits in front of the onion bag though.
In Germany, the Bundesliga title may have been sewn up for quite some time but runners-up Borussia Dortmund enjoyed the team performance of the week, with striker Robert Lewandowski signing off on the campaign with two goals of his own, also nabbing himself another 40 points in the process.
One of the big matches in Spain this week saw Celta Vigo striker Charles score both goals as the Sky Blues ended Real Madrid’s hopes of catching city rivals and Champions League final opponents Atletico in the race for the title. Their 2-0 win represented a surprise to many, with Charles earning himself 40 points of his own to put him right in the mix at the top of the week’s best performers in Europe.
It’s fitting that with about a month to go before the World Cup in Brazil, South Americans dominate the strikers’ standings in Euro Fantasy League. Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil [sort of] and Chile are all represented.
Luis Suarez heads the list with 31 goals in 32 games for Liverpool and 740 points – more than second-place Cristiano Ronaldo. And Suarez is joined by Lionel Messi, Brazil-born Spain international Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Carlos Tevez in the top 10.
Just outside the top 10 are Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero – and if we can stretch the continental boundaries a little, Mexico’s Carlos Vela. Rodrigo Palacio, Adrian Ramos and Edinson Cavani all figure prominently a little lower down.
The message appears to be clear – if you want a livewire, prolific attacker, look to South America. More so, these players mostly didn’t cost fortunes when they crossed the Atlantic and made their way to European football. To sign them today would break the bank – but a team ahead of the curve would snap up a bargain, make a huge profit a few years later, and repeat the process.
Suarez cost Groningen €800,000 when he first left Uruguay. Arsenal tried to sign him a year ago for £40m+£1. Costa was picked up by Atletico Madrid from Braga in Portugal for €1.5m. Chances are he’ll leave for Chelsea this summer for something in the region of £50m. Alexis left Cobreola for Udinese for around £2.5m, a lot for a teenager. But Udinese sold him to Barcelona for about 10 times that amount, so it’s safe to say they got their money’s worth.
It’s not true in all cases – Tevez, as he so often does, goes against the grain, and Higuain wasn’t cheap when he left River Plate for Real Madrid. But generally, South American youngsters coming to Europe do so for a relatively small fee, have boundless potential, and increase enormously in value within a few years.
Clubs on the continent have an advantage over the Premier League in this regard. Spain’s historical links with South America mean they share a language with every country bar Brazil, but the climate means even the Brazilians can settle in quickly to La Liga.
Work Permit regulations for non-EU players are a factor as well. An English club would never be able to sign 16-year-old Alexis as Udinese did, and places such as Germany, France and Italy have more favourable rules than the United Kingdom. The continent’s smaller clubs survive on turning up bargains and moving them on at huge profits and usually use the system to their advantage in expert fashion.
The World Cup provides a platform for the latest South American superstar to break out. Carlos Bacca, the Colombia forward who will help shoulder the burden of Radamel Falcao’s injury, is a good bet. He’s already thrived in a small European league, scoring goals for Club Brugge in Belgium, earning a move to Sevilla.
Sevilla are another club adept at turning a profit on a player – think Dani Alves and Julio Baptista to continue the theme – so don’t be surprised to see Bacca at the top of the Euro Fantasy League standings next year, on the back of a big-money move.
The presence of Yaya Toure, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and Marco Reus in the top positions in Euro Fantasy League’s midfielder rankings suggests that you generally get what you pay for when it comes to players in the middle of the park.
Bale was the most expensive of the group, with the general consensus being that Real Madrid paid Tottenham Hotspur £86m for the Wales winger. Then comes Eden Hazard, who cost Chelsea £32m from Lille. Yaya Toure’s price-tag puts him third at £24m, leaving Reus in fourth at a bargain £14.5m. That’s a combined fee for four players of £156.5m. You could buy entire clubs for that.
The top 10 Euro Fantasy League midfielders is generally a mix of expensive purchases and home grown talents. Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid’s Koke fall into the latter category as, technically, does Cesc Fabregas of Barcelona, although La Blaugrana did pay £35m to repatriate the former Arsenal captain from England.
Raffael is the closest thing to cheap in the list and his 15 goals in 32 games have helped Gladbach to a decent position in the Bundesliga, having cost a reported €5m. But the Brazilian is very much the exception that proves the rule.
Goal-scoring midfielders are at a premium and tend to move for fees usually reserved for strikers. But when Toure is netting 19 times, Bale and Hazard 14 and Reus 16, not to mention the best part of 40 assists between them, it’s clear to see why clubs with cash are willing to splash it on midfielders.
A midfielder who reaches double-figures in both categories is akin to having two players for the price of one. They ease the burden on the front man – usually a lone striker with 4-2-3-1 still a fashionable formation – and create chances for their colleagues. In the case of Hazard, he is Chelsea’s top scorer this season, and without the Belgian the Blues’ Premier League title challenge would never have got started.
They’re each accordingly expensive to have in your Euro Fantasy League team, too, although James Rodriguez offered far more value here than in the real world. A €45m signing for Monaco cost €7.5m in Euro Fantasy League; nine goals, 12 assists and 435 points suggests the Colombian would have been money well spent.
But it is Toure who boats the best points-to-value ratio. The Ivory Coast powerhouse cost only €8.5m in Euro Fantasy League and would have delivered 560 points. His 19 goals and 6 assists have put Manchester City in third in the Premier League and while they might yet overhaul Liverpool with the help of their game in hand, if Toure had been fit all season the title could have been wrapped up already.
Indeed, none of the top four players represent teams at the top of their domestic league. Toure, Hazard and Bale could all still claim winners’ medals and it appears clear that to stand a chance of lifting silverware, a goal-scoring midfielder is a must. If you can afford it.